Markie Hancock’s artful “Born Again” puts the gap between U.S. gays and fundamentalist Christians in first-person terms, as it charts her own gradual, painful drift away from a deeply religious family background. Though voiceover narration occasionally verges on victim whininess, Hancock vividly conveys the depth of her conflicted blood relationships, as well as an eventful life chronicled in homemovies, diary excerpts, interviews and more. Pic is a solid fest item that would make a strong pickup for broadcast docu showcases.
Born in 1959 in Altuna, Penn., where her father was at one point the mayor, the filmmaker and her two brothers were raised in a strict evangelical family that set them apart from most of their peers. Calling a desire for her parents’ approval “the most primal urge,” Markie was a perfect student, acolyte and proselytizer, going as her mother did to a Christian college where freshmen had to sign a pledge not to drink, smoke or dance — with other vices presumably being too abhorrent even to mention.
There Markie was tormented by unrequited love for her female best friend, while even sneaking a cigarette prompted fears in her journal that she was “crossing over to the dark side.” Later, she dropped out of theological school and ran off to Europe — to wide-open Berlin, yet, where she experienced her first lesbian relationship.
When that ended, she moved to Chicago and enrolled in film studies, a shift hardly less worrying to her alarmed parents. “Will it always be a betrayal of God, or (my) mother, if I do what I want?” she frets.
Finally she came out to her parents. But they and devout elder brother Nathan could only handle her admission by praying she could still change her ways and “return to Christ,” so she could join them in heaven.
The parents and brother also won’t allow Hancock and her partner Katherine to stay in their homes when visiting, since they feel that would amount to an endorsement of homosexuality.
But the family members are not depicted as mean-spirited people. The potency of “Born Again” comes from its ability to show how loving family members can nonetheless be insolubly divided by opposing beliefs.
Markie’s younger brother Michael is more bitter about their religious upbringing, calling it “a huge chain weighing us down.” Helmer’s own rhetoric can get a little strident, referring to religion in general as “indoctrination” and “a drug, an addiction” — as if all practices of faith were cut from the same restrictive cloth as her parents’ faith was.
But the Hancock family members are all agreeable company, and “Born Again” weaves together a lively editorial package that mixes the deeply personal with a good grasp of the larger cultural landscapes Hancock moved through from the ’60s onward. It doesn’t lack humor: At one point, a long color cartoon excerpt with Betty Boop as Cinderella illustrates the filmmaker’s youthful hopes that a Prince Charming would arrive to rescue her from her secret Sapphic desires.